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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Puffer Perils (2)

By Han Bingbin (China Daily)

11:15, April 15, 2012

As the blowfish swims upstream from the deep seas to spawn in the Yangtze River in spring, the salt in its body is largely diluted by the sweet waters of the river. This process gives the fish meat a unique texture different from either freshwater or saltwater fishes.

But to enjoy the special texture and taste of this delicacy, it needs the most expert preparation and care, Zhou emphasizes.

First of all, the edible parts, usually the skin and meat, must be carefully separated from the internal organs. Then the backbone has to be broken to let out the blood, all the while under running water.

The fish must next be soaked in fresh water for around 10 minutes to rinse away any remaining blood. Before finally serving the fugu, the chef also has to taste it first to make sure it is safe to eat.

In the past, a long-term reputation was necessary to build one's credibility as an expert fugu chef. These days, however, safety is more regulated and authorized fugu chefs must be professionally trained and certificated before they are allowed to prepare the fish for diners.

Qiu Yangyi, the secretary-general of the Yangzhou Cuisine Association, says the practice follows that in Japan, where apprentice fugu chefs must train with veterans for a couple of years and then sit for examinations.

In China, the training period is much shorter.

In Jiangsu, arguably the original hub of China's fugu-eating tradition, Qiu says the "experience has been passed down for hundreds of years at the cost of numerous lives". Training under the Jiangsu Cuisine Association lasts about a week.

During that period, experienced blowfish chefs along with aquaculture experts train young chefs, who must have at least an intermediate cook's certificate.

The trainees are taught the various habitats and categories of fugu, the butchering techniques as well as the treatment and antidotes for the poison.

Since 2007, the association has trained more than 600 chefs. They still have to undergo annual reviews, and the results are updated on the association's website for public reference.

But the certification is non-governmental.

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